Windsor council backs call for mandatory COVID vaccinations for elementary, high school students

Windsor City Council is backing the health unit in its call for all elementary school students to be vaccinated before they enter a school.

Catholic school board wants mandatory vaccines for teachers, staff as well

Windsor City Council has endorsed a call by the county's health unit for all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending school. The county's Catholic board, however, wants to see the province also mandate vaccinations for staff and teachers. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Windsor City Council is backing the public health unit in its call for all elementary school students to be vaccinated before they enter a school.

But one local school board is hoping to take things a step further.

Councillors endorsed the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU)'s position at their meeting this week.

The WECHU board of health had earlier passed a resolution recommending the province name COVID-19 a "designated disease," which would require students to be immunized against it before attending school (similar to other diseases such as measles, mumps, tetanus, and rubella).

But the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board wants the province to go a step further, and require all teachers and staff to be vaccinated, as well.

Board chair Fulvio Valentinis said the board's position was due to feedback from parents who didn't support closing schools again.

"We felt with the COVID situation being what it is — and spreading — that we need to take some stricter controls," he said. "Rather than each school board making their own rules, we felt that the province should maybe take the lead here, and make this a province-wide initiative."

According to Valentinis, the province said it was taking a gradual approach to COVID-19 restrictions.

"They have been, over the last few months, making greater restrictions," he said. "But they certainly have been hesitant and have not done so on a province-wide basis in terms of mandating the vaccination for students, or for staff, for that matter."

The Ministry of Education said in an email to CBC its their "strong preference" that staff be double vaccinated. If they're not, they must test negative three times a week, every week before entering the school.

"As the Chief Medical Officer of Health has said, Ontario schools have been made safer through strong safety protocols, enhanced ventilation, and high rates of immunization in the community," said ministry spokesperson Caitlin Clark. 

"Ontario has one of the highest vaccine rates for youth in Canada — with nearly 82 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 double vaccinated."

Windsor-Essex school boards recently announced they would provide rapid COVID-19 tests for students to use over the holidays.

However, the use of the tests is voluntary, and a negative test isn't required for a student to return to school.

Valentinis said that while the board can mandate staff be vaccinated on its own, the board would prefer a provincial policy that's consistent across all school boards in Ontario.